• arch_TECHA_ture

Data in City Planning

Why is architecture seemingly absent from the digital sphere?



The data cities can track is far less sophisticated that the data a smartphone can track. Our smartphones track almost everything. Tracking patterns of mass amounts of people is much harder. We can track the number of people that go in or out of buildings and the routes people take to get from one place to another, but beyond that the data is fairly limited.


Carlo Ratti, Director of MIT Senseable City Lab, provides some insight on the use of big data in city planning in his interview with urbanNext. He explains how big data can help us make decisions about urban planning and why primarily big IT companies are the major players in smart city planning. He believes it has to do with start-up culture and the opportunity for venture capitalism in the major cities. Furthermore, architects and city planners have been trying to solve the wrong problems, or at least not the problems related to big data use. Architecture is obedient and missing out on an opportunity to shape smart cities into positive "commons".


The digital layer of our lives is not about to dissipate. It does, however, feel like we've lost control. There are obvious concerns about how to manage content and privacy, and as Ratti says big data is a monopoly. The big companies, high up in the power structure, have control and access to our data, which leaves the rest of us feeling powerless or at least not on a fair playing field.


Architects have a few options. 1. Start asking the right questions to develop the tools needed to collect better data and use it to understand and transform the spaces we live in; 2. Partner with the big tech companies (presuming they are willing); or 3. Hand over responsibility of city planning to big tech companies. Here's to hoping it's not the latter.


Check out more of the MIT Senseable City Lab projects. They're worth a look.